I remember working with a client some time ago who had become quite frustrated and unhappy. Our sessions were coming to an end, but the client hadn’t achieved what he’d expected to.
He had expected to transform his native accent into a Standard North American accent in eight weeks. I thought I’d been very clear, that it takes at least eight weeks for changes to even begin to take root.
Accent modification … accent management … call it whatever you like is a process. It’s important to be clear about what can be reasonably achieved in a given amount of time.
But prospective clients sometimes have ambitious ideas about outcomes. Massive change — instant results.
It was the first time that I had worked with a client in a general way, i.e., not working on a specific project. I had simply provided my rates. The client had paid for a number of hours. And off we went, with no clear objective.
My client was not happy and it was a hard lesson for me. I admit I had wanted to be a “people pleaser.”
So how do we manage expectations and avoid misunderstandings?
It’s important to have an honest conversation from the outset.
People are often ready and willing to talk about their goals. But it can be far more challenging to suss out needs. Frequently, the issue isn’t really a radical change to someone’s accent. In fact, it may not be about their accent at all. It may be about a communication style, their presentation or listening skills, vocabulary, vocal variety, body language, or simple (and not so simple) relationship-building skills.
So how do we go about getting to the heart of the matter?
Before you even begin working together:
- Keep asking questions until you’ve exhausted the discussion.
- Listen carefully and observe. Ask follow-up questions.
- Clarify what the client hopes to accomplish.
- Make it clear that the client must be prepared to do the work, and to work diligently and consistently.
- Be honest about what you can and cannot provide
- Make it clear that long-standing habits take a long time to correct. There are no quick fixes.
- Be transparent about challenges and obstacles.
- Set realistic deadlines with realistic deliverables.
- Be prepared to walk away if you feel your client’s goals are unreasonable or you know you can’t help them.
It seems so obvious now. I wish I’d realized it back then, for my client’s sake and my own.